September 1, 2012

Legends by letter: The best Bruins from A to G

By Jesse Connolly

Over on NHL.com today, they’re making a run from A to Z and listing the best current and best all-time players whose last names begin with each letter. It inspired me to tackle a similar project.

Given the short sample size of current players, we’re omitting that section and keeping it simple. Heck, we’ll even throw in the best goalie for each letter of the alphabet to make up for it!

Without further ado, here are the best Bruins from A to Z:

A

Best ever: Jason Allison

A Bruin from 1997 to 2001, and the captain in his final campaign, the 6-foot-3 Allison (pictured right) was one of the toughest players to knock off the puck and did tons of damage from behind the net. He notched 294 points in 301 games for the Black and Gold and added 25 points in 25 playoff tilts, keying the B’s first-round win over the Hurricanes back in 1999.

Runners-up: P.J. Axelsson, Don Awrey

A defensive wizard with through-the-roof hockey IQ, it still pains Bruins fans to this day that Axelsson was never recognized with even a nomination for the Selke Trophy. The Swedish winger had 103-184-287 totals in 797 NHL games, all of which were for Boston.

Awrey was a member of the Cup-winning squads in ’70 and ’72. The Ontario-born defenseman had 108 points in 543 games for the B’s. His plus-159 mark ranks 13th on the club’s all-time list.

In net: Alex Auld

Yep. Slim pickings among A-named goaltenders. Nevertheless, Auld was a godsend during his lone year in Boston, providing solid relief for Tim Thomas after Manny Fernandez went down with a season-ending injury. The very tall, very bald backstop went 9-7-3 for the B’s with a more-than-respectable 2.32 goals-against average and .919 save percentage in 23 appearances.

B

Best ever: Ray Bourque

Five Norris Trophies, 1,518 games in a Bruins’ uniform, a perennial All-Star and a Hockey Hall of Famer. If you need to know any more reasons why Bourque (pictured right) gets this honor, please never set foot in TD Garden or claim to be a fan of the B’s ever again.

Runners-up: John Bucyk, Patrice Bergeron

Much like Bourque, Bucyk’s accomplishments do all the talking. A two-time Cup winner, “Chief” spent 1,436 games in a Bruins’ uniform, during which he racked up 1,339 points – both of which are second to Bourque on the club’s all-time list. Bucyk was selected to six All-Star Games as a Bruin and won the Lady Byng Award twice (1971, 1974).

Bergeron makes the list for more reasons than just being the longest-tenured Bruin. The 2012 Selke Trophy winner will likely crack the top 20 of the team’s all-time scoring leaders list in 2012-13 (needs just 28 points to pass Woody Dumart). Given that he’s still just 27 years old, that’s pretty impressive. Toss in Bergy’s playoff heroics in 2011 -- and his inspiring comeback from a nearly career-ending concussion -- and you can officially carve No. 37’s place in Bruins’ lore in stone.

In net: Frank Brimsek

Brimsek backstopped the B’s to Cup wins in ’39 and ’41, won the Calder Trophy in ’39 and the Vezina in both ’39 and ’42. He ranks second on Boston’s all-time list with 230 victories. 

C

Best ever: Wayne Cashman

A Bruins lifer, Cashman (pictured right) racked up 793 points in 1,027 games for Boston from 1964-83, appearing in a whopping 145 playoff games (88 points) and winning two Stanley Cups in the process. A fierce competitor and a force to be reckoned with in the corners, there was probably no player who embodied what the “Big, Bad Bruins” were all about more than Cashman.

Runners-up: Dit Clapper, Bill Cowley

Given that his No. 5 hangs high above the ice at TD Garden, it should come as no surprise that Clapper was integral to the B’s success during their early days. After joining the club at the age of 20 in 1927, he went on to play in 833 NHL games from 1927-47 (long before the NHL schedule was as lengthy as it is today). He was a member of three Cup-winning squads in Boston (1929, 1939, 1941).

Speaking of retired numbers, it’s quite surprising that Cowley’s digits were never honored. After one year with the NHL’s short-lived St. Louis Eagles, Cowley was an offensive force for the next decade in Boston (1935-47). He totaled 536 points in 508 games as a Bruin, won the Hart Trophy as league MVP in ’41 and ’43, and led the league in assists on three occasions. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1968.

Honorable mention: Zdeno Chara

Since we're sticking with two runners-up per letter, know that Big Z missed the cut by the slimmest of margins, as it was essentially a coin toss between he and Cowley (Clapper's presence in the rafters made him an automatic inclusion). If you're really peeved by that, just consider it a tie between Cowley and Chara. Chara, the 2009 Norris Trophy winner -- and, come on, the guy should've won it again in 2011 and 2012 -- helped erase a 39-year Cup drought and will one day go down as one of the best defenders to ever play the game. It's more than likely he's got plenty more accompishments in store, especially given that the 35-year-old Chara just set a career-high with 52 points in 2011-12.

In net: Gerry Cheevers

Clocking in at third on the B’s all-time list with 229 wins, Cheevers led the B’s to glory in 1970 with a remarkable 12-1 playoff record. He went 6-2 during the follow championship run in ’72 before splitting for the WHA. When he returned – legendary mask and all – Cheevers helped Boston make two more trips to the finals, including during his career-best, 30-win season in 1976-77.

D

Best ever: Woody Dumart

A member of the famous “Kraut Line,” Dumart (pictured right) spent all 772 of his NHL games (1935-54) in a Bruins’ uniform. Like many on this list, he was a two-time Cup champion. He was selected to the All-Star Game twice (1947, 1948), finished among the league’s top ten goal scorers three times and placed second in points with 43 during the 1939-40 season. Dumart ranks 14th on Boston’s all-time list with 211 tallies.

Runners-up: Gary Doak, Ted Donato

Acquired in a deal that saw longtime Bruin Leo Boivin sent to Detroit, Doak would go on to play in 609 games for the Black and Gold over two stints. Never flashy, Doak was simply a hard-hitting, stay-at-home defenseman who – once he got over a few repeated bouts with the injury bug – was a reliable presence on the back-end.

Donato was not only one of the best Bay State natives to suit up for the Black and Gold, but should also be remembered as one of the top American to ever wear the Spoked-B. In 528 games, the Dedham, Mass., native was a consistent secondary scoring presence for Boston, posting 119-147-266 totals. Teddy D topped the 20-goal mark in three of his first five full seasons with the club but was dealt away to the Isles in 1998. He returned to Boston in 2003-04, finishing out his career where it started.

In net: Byron Dafoe

Who did you think I was going with? Cleon Daskalakis? Dafoe – my all-time favorite Bruin, if by some chance you didn’t know that already -- went 132-104-40 in 283 games for Boston from 1998 to 2002, finishing as a Vezina Trophy finalist in 1999 with 10 shutouts and a sparkling 1.99 goals-against average. “Lord Byron,” a native of Sussex, England, was the only Bruin to backstop the B’s to a playoff series victory from 1994-95 to 2007-08, doing so in 1999 in the aforementioned win over Carolina. Tim Thomas finally ended the drought when Boston beat Montreal in the spring of 2009. He ranks eighth on the club’s all-time list in victories and sixth with 25 shutouts.

E

Best ever: Phil Esposito

Acquired in a famous trade with the Blackhawks, Espo (pictured right) is far and away the greatest forward in club history. In just 625 games, he scored 459 goals and totaled 1,012 points (third on the team’s all-time list). An unstoppable sniper, No. 7 won five Art Ross Trophies as the league’s leading scorer and led the NHL in goals every year from 1969-70 through 1974-75.  He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1984.

Runners-up: Pat Egan, Darryl Edestrand

Traded to the B’s by Detroit in exchange for Flash Hollett in early 1944,  Egan placed in the top two in points among Bruins blueliners in each of his six seasons with the club (finishing first in each of his last three years). He totaled 132 points in 294 games in a Bruins’ uniform, scoring 47 goals. He chipped in three goals in 10 playoff tilts in 1945-46, when Boston fell to Montreal in the finals.

After scoring a combined 25 goals during the 1971-72 and 1972-73 seasons for the Penguins, Edestrand said he was tired of being labeled as an “offensive” d-man, something he viewed as a knock on his defensive abilities. Traded to Boston for Nick Beverley in 1973, Edestrand proved he was no slouch on the back-end with the B’s. The steady d-man was plus-37 in 215 contests for the Black and Gold (1973-78), during which he chipped in 45 points. In 1975-76, he ranked third on the club with 103 penalty minutes.

In net: Claude Evans

Never heard of Evans before? Well, me neither. He’s the only goalie in team history with a name that begins with this letter. A former Canadien – don’t worry, only for four games in 1954-55 – Evans appeared in one single, solitary game for the Bruins during the 1957-58 season, a 4-4 tie against – if I’ve done my research right – the Blackhawks. A Habs-themed blog had this fascinating take on Evans:

“You know those table top hockey goaltenders? They just stand there, never able to go down on the ice, use their arms or flop like a fish out of water? That best describes the way Claude Evans played.”

F

Best ever: Fern Flaman

You can’t believe everything you read on the Internet, but Gordie Howe – Mr. Hockey – allegedly once said that Flaman was the “toughest defenseman” he’s ever played against. Thus ends the debate of who should earn this spot. Flaman was a rugged blueliner for the B’s from 1944-50 and again after a stint in Toronto from 1954-61, appearing in 682 games for the Black and Gold. A feared hitter and just about the last player anyone would want to drop the gloves with, Flaman ranks eighth on the club’s all-time list with 1,002 penalty minutes.

Runners-up: Andrew Ference, Tom Fergus

It looks like rugged defensemen who always play with a team-first attitude are bound to be born with an “F” last name. Ference definitely shares a lot of attributes with Flaman, serving as an unquestioned leader on the B’s back-end. Throughout his 325 games in Boston (12 goals, 69 assists), the 5-foot-11 Ference has endeared himself to Bruins fans with his smart play, underrated puck-moving abilities, playoff heroics and glove malfunctions. But most of all, how can you not love a guy who’s as down-to-earth as it gets off the ice, yet never shy about standing up for his comrades and swiftly punching an opponent in the face at a moment’s notice?

I’m going to be lazy and copy what I said about Fergus in a blog titled “Bruins Dream Team: The All-Americans”: Most B’s fans likely forget just how potent Fergus was during his time in the Hub of Hockey. After a rookie season that saw him notch 39 points in 61 games, the Chicago native had back-to-back seasons of 60-plus points. In 1984-85, he had the best year of his career with 73 points in 79 contests. Just a few months later, Boston dealt Fergus away for Bill Derlago, who played in just 39 games for the team before being traded to Winnipeg.

In net: Manny Fernandez

Fernandez’ first season in Boston was an absolute disaster, as he succumbed to injury after a few brutal starts for the Black and Gold – this after being acquired in the offseason to bump some overachiever named Tim Thomas out of the starting role. But we’ll give Manny some credit, here. The guy was superb in 2008-09 and was neck-and-neck with Thomas – who went on to win the Vezina that year – for the No. 1 spot between the pipes in the first half. Prior to the All-Star break, he was 14-3-1 with a 2.07 GAA. Injuries derailed his second half (and ultimately ended his career), but Fernandez undeniably played a huge role in Boston’s unforgettable early-season run that year. He finished out with an 18-10-3 career record for the B’s.

G

Best ever: Ted Green

“Terrible" Teddy Green (pictured right) arrived in Boston in 1960, already armed with a reputation for being one of the toughest players hockey had ever seen. He cemented that status throughout his NHL career (1960-72), which saw him amass 254 points in 620 games (all for Boston). Where Green shined on the stat sheet, of course, was in penalty minutes, which he accrued 1,029 of (seventh on the B’s all-time list) thanks to his willingness to drop the gloves with any and all challengers. Green overcame being partially paralyzed by a vicious, stick-swinging attack courtesy of Wayne Maki of the St. Louis Blues in 1969. He made a miraculous comeback in 1970-71 and played for the Cup-winning team in ’72 before joining the WHA.

Runners-up: Bill Guerin, Hal Gill

Guerin’s run in Boston was far too short, as “Dollar Bill” (hey, not my nickname) ditched playing for the hometown team when the Dallas Stars offered him enough money to buy a small country. But, while he was here, the gritty forward was sensational. Acquired in a deal with Edmonton for Anson Carter, the Wilbraham, Mass., native formed the “GAS Line” alongside Allison and Sergei Samsonov, a frighteningly potent and balanced trio. In 142 games, Guerin scored 69 goals and added 60 assists, placing second in the league with 41 tallies during the 2001-02 season.

Gill was often the target of not-so-friendly criticism during his tenure with the Bruins, but in retrospect, he didn’t get a fair shake. B’s fans were bothered that the 6-foot-7 defenseman wasn’t a tremendous physical force – so mad, in fact, that they failed to recognize how consistent he was during his eight years with the club. In 626 games, Gill notched 97 points. Over his final seven seasons in Boston, he missed just 16 games. From 2001-02 to 2003-04, he was plus-53. And, all these years later at the age of 37, he’s still a dependable NHL d-man.

In net: Gilles Gilbert

Whew! Thank God someone other than John Grahame has a “G” last name! If it weren’t for the flat-out phenomenal play of Bernie Parent for the Flyers in the ’74 playoffs, Gilbert likely would’ve backstopped Boston to a Cup. Instead, Philly’s phenom sent the Bruins to a 4-2 series loss in the finals. Gilbert had a winning record in each of his seven seasons with the Black and Gold, finishing a superb 82 games over .500 (155-73-39). Along with Cheevers, Gilbert is one of just two goalies in franchise history to have more than twice as many wins as he did losses.

Come back Monday – well, come back every day, while you’re at it – for Part II, featuring the best Bruins from H to M.

Jesse Connolly can be reached at jconnolly@hockeyjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JesseNEHJ.